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Next Generation of Firefighters Learn from the Past

Each year, Fire Science students at Lambton College in Ontario, Canada, participate in a group project where they research and present on significant fires. FDNY Black Sunday is just one of the topics students can choose and each class has responded to the project differently. In a previous year, students built this scale replica of the apartment from that fateful day. This year, one group project included the following summary of the event relating specifically to Joey:

Joey DiBernardo was riding with Rescue 3 on Black Sunday. Rescue 3 was dispatched to a structure fire in a 4 story apartment building in the Bronx.

DiBernardo was performing a search with one other firefighter from Rescue 3 and four firefighters from Ladder 27 on the 4th floor, above the fire. Lack of water allowed the conditions within the building to escalate until the firefighters were forced to exit through the 4th story windows. There was no time to have ladders raised to the windows and 4 of the firefighters jumped from the the 4th story into a small, below-grade alleyway behind the building.

DiBernardo and Jeff Cool, from Rescue 3, remained in the building. Cool threw one end of an escape rope to DiBernardo with the intent to lower him to the ground from the adjacent window. DiBernardo refused to be lowered down first because he knew Cool had a wife and kids, while Joey was single. DiBernardo wrapped the rope around his arm and waist in an attempt to self-belay Cool to safety, but when Cool leapt out of the window, he lost his grasp on the rope landing in the alley below and suffering severe injuries.

DiBernardo then tied the escape rope to a child safety guard and attempted to lower himself to the ground. According the DiBernardo’s account, the rope broke causing him to also fall to the alleyway below, breaking almost all of the bones from his waist down. DiBernardo’s recovery was a long process. He fought for his life in the hospital, battling his injuries as well as respiratory arrest and pneumonia. After leaving the hospital, he spent an extended amount of time in a rehabilitation center learning to walk again. Joey DiBernardo lived the rest of his life in pain and on many medications, eventually passing away on November 22, 2011 as a result of injuries sustained on Black Sunday.

The selfless way that Joey DiBernardo lived and eventually died serves as a testament to the kind of person, firefighter and friend that he was. He was a shining example of what it is to live a life of service to others. In that same way, his family continues to give back to the fire service through the work they do as part of the Joey D Foundation.

"These students are 18-20 years of age," says Professor Scott Brown, "They can’t answer the question, 'Where were you on 9/11?' 9/11 is a history lesson for them." He uses to stories like 9/11 and those of Joey DiBernardo, Jeff Cool, Kevin Shea, and Paddy Brown to teach the next generation of the fire service.
Lambton students also have a chance to visit New York with stops at "The Rock" at Randall’s Island and 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The highlight of the 2018 trip, was meeting up with Retired Rescue 3 Firefighter Tim Brown at the 9/11 Memorial reflecting pools. In March 2018, the students marched up 5th Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and plan to visit again in March 2019.

The Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation and the DiBernardo family thanks Professor Brown and the Fire Science Students at Lambton College for taking the time to study and learn from the Black Sunday Fire and other fires. "Your hard work not only helps prevent similar tragedies from occurring, but it honors those who gave their lives in the line of duty. Thank you for remembering our son in this meaningful way," says Joey's father, Chief Joe DiBernardo.
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